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Can Democrats break the midterm curse? Maybe – consider the example of 1934

Now that Joe Manchin has sounded the death knell – at least for now – on Joe Biden’s Build Back Better package, Democrats will lose the 2022 midterm elections.

Or, wait: They? Sometimes the “laws” of politics (or economics) are characterized as immutable, similar to the laws of physics. Of course they don’t. No ballots were cast midterm. If Democrats can find a way to engage their voters at an unexpectedly high level, while Republicans can’t, they could turn 2022 into another green wave. Political trends do not govern us; they are the result of human behavior, which is never entirely predictable.

Of course, Build Back Better’s apparent demise didn’t help. But the pattern that every political analyst and historian understands may be the real problem: Since the modern era of American politics began with Election of Franklin D. Roosevelt In 1932, the party that controlled the White House lost its congressional seat in 19 out of 22 midterm elections. Two of the three exceptions, in 1998 and 2002, were special cases that had little to do with the Democrats’ predicament in 2022. In 1998, the Democrats benefited from the economy. is booming and the Republican backlash aims to impeach Bill Clinton over a sex scandal. The 2002 midterm elections took place just one year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks; patriotic sentiments were on the rise and George W. Bush succeeded in defining himself (for the time being) as a “wartime president”.

It is the third exception, going back to 1934 – in the first of Roosevelt’s three plus terms as president – may provide a prime example. Those midterms come after FDR and the Democrats passed a series of historic and ambitious legislation, collectively referred to as the New Transaction. While the Great Recession certainly didn’t end immediately, the New Deal put millions to work and did a lot to ease suffering and despair. Despite Roosevelt’s reputation (then and now) as a progressive president, the basic premise of the New Deal was more pragmatic than ideological: Economic insecurity, poverty were threats for social stability and indeed for the capitalist system; Creating a social safety net is understood as a matter of urgency. A few years later, Roosevelt put it this way in his 1944 State of the Union address: “We have recognized the obvious fact that true individual liberty cannot exist without security. economic security and independence.” The necessary people are not free people. ‘ Hungry and jobless people are the cause of dictatorships. “

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Within his first 100 days, Roosevelt did a lot to restore confidence in government, provide emergency financial assistance to those in need, pass the National Industrial Recovery Act and Securities Act, while also implementing a number of other regulatory and relief measures. Indeed, his first term was one of the most productive in presidential history, and resulted in a fundamental restructuring of the federal government, from which point onward it was directly present. more in the lives of ordinary people than ever before. Conservatives describe this as a dangerous invasion of individual freedom (and have done so ever since); what we now call “liberalism” gathers around the idea that government action is sometimes necessary to help the most vulnerable in society.


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However, despite these legislative successes, political success is not guaranteed to follow. The persistent unemployment rate remains surprisingly high, and American companies have begun to take wage cuts. In an era before complicated voting, experts couldn’t scientifically judge how popular a president is today. For all Democrats know, Republican warnings about rampant socialism have led to widespread panic and conservatives may show up in record numbers. to prevent a supposed red threat. On the other end of the spectrum, some Democratic socialists and progressives were frustrated with the Roosevelt administration’s patchwork approach to social and economic justice issues. Senator Huey Long, the legendary Louisiana populist who advocated a massive federal spending and wealth redistribution program, planned to run against Roosevelt for the Democratic nomination. owner in 1936 (and would have been, had he not been assassinated in 1935).

In this case, the Democrats did remarkably well during the 1934 midterms, winning nine more seats in the House – and also an extraordinary nine more seats in the Senate, helping them to take over. majority in that room, with 69 of the 96 seats. Richard Walker, director of the New Living Deal Project and emeritus professor of geography at the University of California, Berkeley, told Salon via email that the Democrats’ big win was due to two main factors. Most obviously, FDR and his party are seen as the decisive steps to solving the economic crisis.

“The recession is still bad and the Republicans have had no new ideas since 1932,” Walker wrote, “so even though FDR hasn’t settled on anything yet, no one is prepared. bring back the totally failed Hooverites.Is that considered a mistake by the GOP?Well, they had a lot of bad time from late 1929 to early 1933 and people still haven’t forgotten. .”

Joe Biden certainly knows about that history, and most likely intends to Rebuild for the Better as an achievement that establishes a legacy of its own, substantial enough to change the tides of politics. Whether that package can be reinstated remains unclear, but his underlying problem remains that Democrats hold a razor-thin majority in Congress and remain unwilling to end the Senate vote. institute. Without a major legislative victory, the last hope remaining for Democrats is to mount a negative campaign and convince voters that a Republican victory would be catastrophic. Decisions pending in the Supreme Court, including Roe’s lawsuit against Wade, could be overturned or potentially political backlash that would help Democrats take control of Congress.

Again there are vague similarities to the midterm elections of 1934, when Democrats successfully described Republicans as extremists, albeit in a different sense than today. : They are associated with the wealthy elite, with businessmen living in mansions and following fully liberalized dogmas. related to the lives of ordinary people. Democrats say a return to the disastrous economic policies of the Herbert Hoover administration would be a terrible mistake. In 2022, the threat posed by a recently defeated Republican administration has taken on a more literal and even more dangerous form, with Donald Trump and his supporters using fascist language and tactic and openly seek to overthrow democratic institutions.

Calling for extremism wasn’t enough for Democrats in the recent Virginia gubernatorial election, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work on a national scale, if pursued aggressively and effectively. more fruitful. If there was one lesson applicable to the Democratic Party to be found in the midterms of 1934, it could be this: The incumbent party could win, but only by making an emergency and convincing that Their opponents are very dangerous and the future will be really bleak if they prevail. Given the circumstances, that’s a very reasonable argument.

Read more from Matthew Rozsa on the twists and turns of American political history:

https://www.salon.com/2021/12/26/can-democrats-break-the-midterm-curse-maybe–consider-the-example-of-1934/ Can Democrats break the midterm curse? Maybe – consider the example of 1934

Huynh Nguyen

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